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Neighbors remain hopeful of talks

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North Korea admits publicly for the first time that it has nuclear weapons.
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(CNN) -- North Korea's neighbors, Japan and South Korea, are urging Pyongyang to reverse its stated decision to pull out of six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and "bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal."

"It would be better if we resumed talks soon," said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

He said Tokyo would cooperate with other countries to get the talks back on track.

Japan's proximity to the North Korea, as well as its large population of North Korean expatriates, means it has a particular interest in Pyongyang's intentions.

North Korea made the announcement on Thursday via its official news agency, KCNA, citing what it called U.S. threats to "topple" its political system.

It is the first public admission by North Korea that it has nuclear weapons.

But Japan cautioned against overreacting to the statement.

"They have used this sort of phrasing every so often," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters.

"They didn't say anything particularly new."

South Korea echoed Koizumi's comments, saying the decision to quit the talks was "regrettable" and a matter of deep concern.

South Korean government officials said a nuclear North Korea would not be tolerated.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he thought Pyongyang's statement contained an "element of bluff".

"There's an element of exaggeration, even if she (North Korea) does have some nuclear capacity it's probably being exaggerated," he said in a television interview Friday morning.

"But nobody should imagine that this is anything other than a real problem, and one that has to be handled with a great deal of skill and balance," he added.

"I'm not absolutely certain that the six-power talks have collapsed and we will renew our effort, particularly with the Chinese and the Americans and the Japanese, to see if we can't re-establish those six-power talks," he said.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer told Australian media: "It may very well be a prelude to further negotiation. We hope that's what it is, toughening up their position, reinforcing their negotiating clout."

Downer played a significant role in Canberra's resumption of diplomatic relations with Pyongyang in 2000, and has visited the reclusive nation several times.

Since 2003, the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have held three rounds of talks aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons development in return for economic and diplomatic rewards.

But no significant progress was reported in those talks, all hosted by China.

A fourth round of talks planned for last September did not take place after North Korea refused to attend, citing what it called a "hostile" U.S. policy.

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